‘The Busy Body’ at Clarence Brown


It’s the story of two women escaping arranged marriages through trickery on both their and their actually desired husbands’ part and the random man who gets involved because he doesn’t want to be out of the loop. “The Busy Body” manages to be farcical without getting as complicated as this type of comedy can get. Then again, I did have a guide to the different characters.

Susanna Centlivre wrote The Busy Body: A Comedy in 1709. It can be tricky for a novice, or even just a nonnative speaker to 18th century language to always get the flow of what’s going on. It worked because it was funny. The broadness, the silly characters, it often worked.

Yet this is a play of its time and funny to us now, perhaps because it’s separate from our everyday lives. It’s a play about the abuses of arranged marriage, something that was actually real at the time, even if it was played with exaggeration and ended with an ending typical of this type of comedies from ancient Greece onward.

The play’s moral seems all the more relevant to us, because we know how terrible that old system of women as pure property could be and how we can now see past it.

 

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Finding Beauty in a Broken World: Crazy, Hard to Get Through, Yet Somehow Awesome


“Writers break black letters out of lead and line them up on white sheets and ask others to read sentences we have created for ourselves.” -Terry Tempest Williams, Finding Beauty in a Broken World, in a section in which she compares herself to disembodied mosaic hands in prayer on Italian columns.

Terry Tempest Williams’s Finding Beauty in a Broken World is the kind of book that readers might want to send me to Siberia for recommending. It’s long, and has no chapters, making it hard to read at times. It moves from quiet, slow field-notes-style observations of prairie dogs to harsh testimonials about the Rwandan genocide.

Yet at the same time, perhaps because of all that, it’s brilliant, and I wish I could get away with writing like it.

Williams repeatedly talks about mosaics. It’s her cue for how she sets up the book, a picture of little fragments. The paragraphs, separated by spaces, are often short with only a few sentences.

If that style sounds familiar, it’s because, perhaps unintentionally, it’s the style you’re reading. The book is similar to the typical style of the internet in some ways.

Yet it’s undeniably “literary.”* It’s arty, poetic in places and it takes its time when it feels like taking its time, unlike the typical web style. It also has sections that are more like a single book, long masses of paragraphs.

*I absolutely despise the word “literary” because it’s too hard to define. I’m only using it here to mean “not stereotypically internet-y.”

Some parts are better than others. Her quick descriptions of action in nature read well: “The clam broke open and the gull swooped down to eat the fleshy animal inside.” She also speaks well about literal mosaics, “a dazzling narrative of cut stones and glass,” “a conversation between what is broken.” She falters at some moments though, like “What if the burrows of the prairie dogs follow the energy paths of the earth?”

In short I can neither sum up this book nor recommend it to most people. And yet I liked it.

HG vs. BR


I had wanted to see John Carter.   I was planning on seeing it with Goyo (an exchange student staying with us) who said he wanted to. Later though, Goyo said that he would prefer to watch The Hunger Games because he said that John Carter “is the same as Avatar.” Maybe, but by that logic Avatar is the same as Dances with Wolves. Also, isn’t the story for John Carter a century old?

 

Fiction generally has always stolen or borrowed things. Science Fiction especially. In part that’s because audiences to relate to things on other worlds if they resemble something familiar. Also, stealing is good if it works and is convenient for what you’re trying to do. What better way to show off all the odd alien costumes you can come up with than by putting all of them in an old western saloon? To make it less obvious, replace the piano player with an alien Benny Goodman knockoff band, and then you have one of the most famous scenes in movies period.

 

But I didn’t really care that much, so I figured I could see the Hunger Games. I hadn’t read the book, but I could say the same for John Carter.

 

We got there early, but because of the crowds we had to sit near the front, which may have been a mistake. Yes, people complain about the shaky cam thing, but I felt like making the audience dizzy was exactly what the movie was going for, so it worked.

 

Much of the movie was off-putting in one way or another, but again, that was the movie’s intention. I had heard that it took place in the future. Given that we’re in the 2010s, I figured that Earth people in the future would dress like earth people do now (as in the 90s-2000s films Avatar, AI, Minority Report, or to a lesser extent V for Vendetta). But not here. Here they  took their cues from my own home region, some time between the  1860s and the 1960s, right down to the home-stitched dresses.

 

Then we get to the Capitol. In the Capitol, most people seem to dress as if they though Jacobim Mutagu (the villain from Zoolander) had taken over (I would not put it past him). It’s not just fashion. Even the names are foreign sounding.  It’s through the lens of a foreign world that the movie throws us into issues of power and spectacle.

 

Why am I talking so much about these aspects of setting? It’s because I just now finished watching the 2000 Japanese film Battle Royale, which is also an adaptation of a novel. In it, a group of teens fall asleep while they think they are riding home from their boarding school on a bus only to wake up and find that the Japanese government randomly selected them to fight to the death on a deserted but guarded island and they are all wearing tracking collars. Oh, and only one of them can survive. They all start out from a central location, each with a bag that contains a weapon.

 

I’m not going to go any further into summarizing Battle Royale because I want people to see it. The odd plot turns and random chance encounters are part of what make it a good movie, and I don’t want to ruin it for anyone.

 

For obvious reasons though, even without some of the plot points I didn’t go into (most of which go in totally different directions) some people accuse The Hunger Games of plagiarizing Battle Royale.  Suzanne Collins author of The Hunger Games, claims she’d never heard of it. I’m with her on this one. She may well have heard of it, but my impression, just from comparing film adaptations, is that it wasn’t her initial inspiration. Even if it was, she took it in a totally different direction. The two are far more different than Avatar is from Dances with Wolves.  

 

The Hunger Games is a single protagonist’s story set in a far-future world different from ours. Battle Royale switches between perspectives and plot lines and in Battle Royale it’s our world, slightly in the future after a wave of youth violence and a bizzare adult reaction to it. Not only that, but  BRi is just a small section of the world, one particular class of kids who already know each other, while in HG they’re from all over the country, and few of them know each other. In Hunger Games the Game is an accepted fact of life. In Battle Royale the Game is a bizarre thing thrown on the teenagers, and one of the kids laughs at the idea before getting stabbed.

 

Again, though, just based on the adaptations, if I had to choose one, I’d say that Battle Royale is the better movie. The different plots pay off when one set of people collides with the other and you don’t know when they will collide. Anything could happen. Although it’s set in Japan, the world of the story is so similar to the present-day world that the murders has a  more jarring, “These could be people you went to school with”-type feel. That the island has empty houses on it adds to that mood. The government’s motivation is more confusing, but the motivation of the man running the operation, a former teacher, could not be clearer. Again though, this is a matter of comparing movies with very different focuses and themes, and I’m glad that both movies exist. If it wasn’t for the Hunger Games, I would not have heard of Battle Royale.

 

On Helping: a Movie and Life Review


I saw The Help and liked it. It’s about a woman (called “Skeeter”) who collects the stories of black maids in her town. Movies like it should be made, and more movies need to deal with the working class. Also, I hate criticism that we white people shouldn’t write about people from other backgrounds. If we can’t then I think we’re leaving out a lot of stories. Still, the movie got me thinking. My thoughts had less to do with the movie and more with movies in general and the idea of helping.

There’s a whole genre of “helper” movies from Hollywood. Movies in which a white person goes in to a non-white community to help them and succeeds. The Help doesn’t really fit in this category, as we don’t see Skeeter victoriously ending discrimination. Instead it ends with her damaging the relations between people around her, even if she does bring out the non-racist side of her mother. Also, her goal is not to help so much as sell her book, so she’s a little more complex than your average Hollywood helper.

Helper movies split into two types: Helper dramas (The Blind Side,Music of the Heart) and warrior helpers (Avatar, Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai, Laurence of Arabia).

Ironically, given the focus on action, the warrior helper movies seem to have  more dynamic helper characters (they often switch sides). Helper Dramas are usually about characters who start out right and end just as right. Again, The Help just barely fits here, but there’s one side it doesn’t show, and that’s struggling at first. To be fair, she does struggle at first, but none of it is her fault, more to do with the risks of the time period.

I worked with migrant farm workers in South Carolina, signing people up for a health program and then recording an interview with one worker about his life. You can read more about my memories of that time at this blog. When I started out I was asking people what they ate for breakfast, who cooked for them and other weird awkward questions as icebreakers. I took notes even when I was just making light conversation, making me look like a census taker. People had to point these things out to me for me to change them. Usually these people were Latino. Why are there are no stories about people who try to help but start out doing it all wrong? Or even more importantly, a story of a helper failing?

In SC doing healthoutreach work.
Ben doing health outreach Work

I may, in the future, write the story I’m describing, although I have other projects at the moment. Right now I just thought I’d throw the questions out there and see what people thought.